Welcome back to my weekly NHL notebook, where we take a look at the league and address some of the trending stories and highlights that fans are (or should be) talking about.
Rise of the slew-foots?
It’s been a pretty busy season for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety so far, as we’ve seen 13 players earn suspensions and 21 more get fined through the first couple months of the season. But this week was an especially interesting one on the DoPS front because we had two fairly substantial suspensions that are each worth talking about.
The first was handed out to Brad Marchand, who received a three-game ban after slew-footing Vancouver’s Oliver Ekmann-Larsson in a game over the weekend. Veteran NHL enjoyers likely have a good idea of Marchand’s reputation. He’s a very skilled and talented player but one who’s often painted as a “rat” thanks to his history of dangerous plays and often hilarious but immoral attempts to get under the skin of opponents. (Or, in some cases, get a taste of the skin of opponents.)
Given that reputation — and the fact that Marchand clearly swept the leg of Ekmann-Larsson — it’s not a big shock that the Bruins forward landed a suspension in the aftermath. What was a bit surprising to me, however, was the length of the ban.
For some reason or another, slew-footing seems to be making a strong comeback this season. Through the first couple of months, we’ve seen more than a handful of incidents. However, there seems to be a lot of inconsistency in how slew-foots are 1) defined and 2) punished across the league right now.
Here’s the definition by the rulebook:
“Slew-footing is the act of a player using his leg or foot to knock or kick an opponent's feet from under him, or pushes an opponent's upper body backward with an arm or elbow, and at the same time with a forward motion of his leg, knocks or kicks the opponent's feet from under him, causing him to fall violently to the ice.”
By this definition, Marchand’s play can certainly fall under the slew-foot classification by looking at the way his leg sweeps through OEL after initial contact. However, I think you can also argue that Marchand initiates shoulder-to-shoulder contact and that does most of the work to knock Ekman-Larsson down. (The camera angles shown don’t make it very easy to determine.)
Either way you want to see it, I disagree with the league’s determination that Marchand used his upper body to push OEL backward. From my view, it looks like Marchand’s upper body twists in OEL’s direction as a means of maintaining his balance after contact.
In any case, Marchand’s history of run-ins with the DoPS strips him of the benefit of the doubt, and so it’s not a surprise he ended up getting banned. I think the bigger discussion is where the line is drawn when it comes to slew-footing.
Look at this sequence last month from P.K. Subban, a player who has earned the nickname “PK Slewban” over the years. Subban goes into the corner and clearly uses his leg to take out Trevor Zegras in what easily could have been called a slew-foot.
A week earlier, Subban did this to Milan Lucic:
So how did the league handle that pair of plays? Subban was fined for both, but neither was considered a slew-foot. Instead, the league elected to classify both incidents as “dangerous trips.”
Every slew-foot is a dangerous trip, but not every dangerous trip is a slew-foot. The difference in these cases seems to be pretty minimal.
Subban doesn’t have the DoPS history that Marchand does, but he does have a well-established reputation for slew-footing. I mean, he’s essentially a repeat offender this year alone. At face value, his incidents are comparable to Marchand’s. So why the big gap in punishment? It seems that both probably should have been suspended, yet one is fined and the other gets three games.
Adding another layer of confusion to this mess is that Kevin Labanc was suspended one game for slew-footing Tyler Bozak on this play:
That’s a scary incident in a dangerous area of the ice but, to me, it doesn’t seem malicious from Labanc. The leg taking out Bozak seems more like an incidental product of Labanc losing his balance. Yet it was determined to be an intentional slew-foot, and LaBanc had to sit for a game.
We all tend to joke about the Department of Player Safety spinning a random wheel of justice anytime it needs to hand out punishment, but there really does seem to be a weird range in how slew-foots are identified and punished this season.
Lemieux gets five for biting
That other suspension that I alluded to earlier? It went to Brendan Lemieux, and it was certainly deserved. The Kings forward got a five-game ban for biting Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk over the weekend in a pretty wild night of chaos. Not only did Lemieux chomp down on Tkachuk hard enough to leave a full indent of his dentures and draw blood, but Tkachuk also unleashed an incredible rant after the game.
The highlight of that rant? Tkachuk calling Lemieux a “complete brick head,” which immediately becomes my favorite insult of 2021. I will allow Gilbert Gottfried to read you the rest of Tkachuk’s rant because — why the hell not?
Lemieux took a mouthful and was given a handful, thus becoming the fourth player in NHL history to be suspended for biting an opponent. (His dad, Claude Lemieux, also bit an opponent after a playoff game in 1986 but wasn’t suspended.)
Frank Seravalli and I talked about the incident for The First Line earlier this week, and I guessed that Lemieux would get eight to 10 games for his mid-game snack. Maybe I was a bit too harsh in my assessment, but I’m not sure there’s another line of work where you can latch on to a colleague’s hand like a rabid pitbull and only miss a handful of days at the office. I’m fine with saying Lemieux got off a bit easy here.
Hughes gets paid
This was a big week for young Devils star Jack Hughes. On the day he returned to New Jersey’s lineup after a six-week absence with a dislocated shoulder, he signed a new contract that will pay him an average of $8 million over eight years.
The deal is a bit of a gamble, if we’re being honest, because Hughes had only played 119 career NHL games at the time of his signing. He largely struggled in his first season and hasn’t really performed at an elite level over a sustained period of time, but the Devils are essentially betting on him to do that with this deal. And it’s not exactly a bad bet.
Hughes is still just 20 years old, and he was showing signs of a breakout season before the shoulder injury sidelined him. He has the skills to develop into one of the league’s most exciting superstars, and if that happens, there’s a chance that this contract looks like a bargain relatively soon.
But Hughes also hasn’t really shown enough yet to justify an $8 million price tag. So if his development doesn’t pan out or he has trouble staying healthy, the Devils are going to be in a tough spot for a long time.
We love a good roll of the dice, though, don’t we?
The NHL has stayed consistent in rolling out new jerseys that deliver shock and awe over the past few weeks. The Devils alternates that were rolled out last week taught us the lesson that former players make for HORRIBLE jersey designers, and now we’ve got a couple new interesting threads to feast our eyes on this week.
Thursday provided official looks at the uniforms we’ll see during the 2022 Stadium Series outdoor game in Nashville, and I have VERY differing opinions on the two unis. We’ll start with the good: The Tampa Bay Lightning.
While I don’t think it’s perfect by any means, this is a surprising treat from the Lightning — a team that has consistently had very boring primary jerseys and very bad alternate jerseys in recent years. This new look is clean and different, and the lightning bolt design at the bottom reminds me of the shark-tooth hats from the 90s. (That’s a compliment.)
My biggest complaint? I’m not the biggest fan of nickname jerseys, and I think I would have preferred to see the logo on the chest. Either way, this is one of the better jerseys Tampa has rolled out in … maybe ever?
OK, now for the bad: The Nashville Predators.
Did I mention that I dislike nickname jerseys? Well, I especially hate them when they’re TERRIBLE. This jersey is a complete mess. The overall design is bland and, while I understand what they were trying to do with the letterpress poster look, the word mark is just a mess. And "Smashville" just feels played out at this point.
Essentially, this jersey feels like a tourist trap. It’s going to be a HIT with bachelor party dudes. (Not a compliment.)
Overall, it’s really disappointing from the host club, especially since I absolutely loved Nashville’s outdoor look for the Winter Classic in Dallas a few years ago.